As Jon already reported, Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen was down in Olympia yesterday asking legislators for a 40-percent cut in the newspaper industry’s B&O tax to help them through these tough economic times. (You know, on top of the sales tax exemption the industry already enjoys.) Still…
“Some of us, like The Seattle Times, are literally holding on by our fingertips today,” Blethen said.
No doubt. And as a former small business owner myself preparing to dive headlong into a new and even riskier venture in the flailing news industry, I know first hand that paying a B&O tax while losing money makes survival all the more difficult for any struggling business.
But rather than handing out business tax breaks based on one’s ability to exert political pressure, wouldn’t the more rational solution to Frank’s very real problem be to move from our antiquated B&O tax on gross receipts to a fairer and simpler corporate income tax on net profits? You know… like nearly every other state in the union?
For those of you who’ve never paid the B&O tax it is bizarrely byzantine with 17 tax classifications and 25 different credits that has some industries paying more than ten times the effective rate of others, and which, despite DOR’s best efforts, can be an absolute bitch to figure out. For example, as a small software developer and publisher, our income was taxed at three different rates under four different tax classifications: retailing, wholesaling, royalties and services. (Perhaps five different tax classifications… I could never quite figure out whether some of our “wholesaling” business was actually “manufacturing”, though it didn’t really matter as both activities are taxed at the same rate.)
Much simpler would have been a corporate income tax, as we were already figuring out our profit/loss for the IRS, and while the B&O tax was never onerous (we never grossed more than a few hundred thousand dollars in a year), paying a tax on our losses didn’t make it any easier to start up a new business.
So it is more than a little disappointing to see our newspaper publishers, struggling under the weight of heavy losses, selfishly lobbying for a narrow tax break for themselves rather than using their unique position as opinion leaders to advocate for a more rational and fairer tax system that would address the needs of other struggling businesses while promoting entrepreneurialism and new business creation.
But then, that’s the sort of knee-jerk opposition to even debating an income tax that we’ve come to expect from our state’s opinion leaders.